Haaretz reports that Israeli has just opened a new military front in its fight against Iran. It’s well known that Israel has attacked Iranian positions inside Syria hundreds of times, along with assassinating Iranian commanders there as well. But until now, there has been no other country in the region where Israel confronted Iranian forces directly.
In the past few days, the Israeli air force has launched attacks on what it claims are missile positions inside Iraq which were established by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The missiles emplanted there can supposedly reach Israel. Drones, possibly Israeli, also attacked IRG positions inside Iraq:
…The reported F-35Is missions targeting two Iranian bases…represent a sharp escalation of Israeli attacks on Iranian forces operating in the region, and mark the first Israeli strikes in Iraq since the bold 1981 bombing that destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nascent nuclear program.
It appears that the IRG is spreading its military assets over as wide an area as possible. So that in the event of attack by Israel and/or the U.S. it will be able to strike back. The wider it spreads this net the less likely its enemies will be able to hit every position in a first strike, and the more likelihood Iran would be able to launch a punishing response.
Haaretz dutifully offers the military intelligence analysis of the Iranian strategic thinking (though I find many of its assumptions questionable):
Israel’s intelligence assessment for 2019 states that despite Iran’s difficulties in entrenching itself militarily in Syria, it hasn’t given up on its ambition “to create regional hegemony for itself via alliances spreading from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.” Nevertheless, the assessment continued: “Iran has been forced to recalculate the way it tries to realize its regional vision. This recalculation led Iran to realize that the domestic and international situation in Iraq created better opportunities for it to prepare its regional plans.”
Iran has had little difficult entrenching itself in Syria. Israeli analysts are forgetting who won that war and who lost. Israel was on the losing side. It may be continually trying to punish Hezbollah and Iran by attacking their bases there. But that doesn’t mean Iran is frustrated in its military ambitions there as this analysis presumes. Notice only Iran seeks “regional hegemony.” Not Israel. Notice that it is only Iran seeing “alliances spreading from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.” No mention of Israeli alliances spreading from Saudi Arabia through the Gulf and to Egypt. Do you catch of whiff of hypocrisy in the air?
Israel’s strategic thinking seems highly escalatory. We already have one powder keg where Israeli and Iranian forces are poised for battle: Syria. Now, thanks to Israel’s incessant need to strike out against any regional power that poses a threat to its dominance, we may have second front on the edge of a conflagration. Syria is a dangerous enough place with the combined forces of Syria, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Turkey, the U.S., and Kurds all vying for military position and influence. The country is on a knife’s edge.
But Syria is kid’s play compared to Iraq. The U.S. has been fighting there for nearly two decades. We’ve lost well over 5,000 troops in battle. It is where ISIS first arose to nearly dominate the entire region. The sectarian divide there between Sunni and Shia is exquisitely fraught. During those two decades, the U.S. and Iran have variously been at each other’s throat and quietly cooperated on matters of mutual interest.
Now Israel wants to begin throwing its own weight around there. Imagine how Iraqi Shia, allied with Iran are going to take the prospect of Israeli F-35s buzzing their air space routinely to take out Iranian bases and weapons depots, as they do in Syria? Does anyone think that the Iraqis will stand by and see their sovereignty trampled on as Israel does routinely in Syria? Further, the Haaretz account notes that Israeli military strategists are also suggesting that Israel may target not only Iranian forces and weaponry in Iraq, but that it may target Iran’s Iraqi Shiite militia allies. That threatens to unleash a tinder box explosion like the one that U.S. forces faced a decade ago there.
Remember, the U.S. currently has 5,200 troops in Iraq. Remember the days when Shia and Sunni terrorists planted roadside IEDs which claimed hundreds and thousands of American lives? If Iran wanted, we could easily end up in those bad old days. I have no doubt that Trump, Pompeo and Bolton would be only too happy for Israel to give Iran a bloody nose in Iraq. But can the U.S. afford the blowback it would entail?
While Israel is prepared to incite a potential regional conflict over Iran basing missile batteries in Iraq, let’s recall that the U.S. has missile batteries throughout Europe and tens of thousands of its troops stationed not just in the Middle East, but throughout the world, including Germany, South Korea and Africa. While we view this as defending our interests, many of our rivals for influence see it as a direct threat to them. Yet when Iran does precisely the same thing, it is Iran which is the world’s bully. What hypocrisy!